Showing posts with label Isaac Burk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Isaac Burk. Show all posts

Saturday, January 6, 2018

52 Ancestors #1: Grandpa Got Me Started in Genealogy

I never knew my father's father, Grandpa Isaac Burk (1882-1943). I didn't know what he looked like, didn't know when or where he was born, didn't know when or where he died. But it was Grandpa who got me started on my genealogy journey 20 years ago.

In 1998, the genealogist of my mother's Farkas family wanted to add my father and his parents to her comprehensive family tree. There was little I could tell her other than Grandpa's name. There was no one left to ask. Of course, I couldn't resist trying to find out more. Little did I know how elusive Grandpa's trail was going to be!

As a complete novice, my first stop was the Milstein Division of the New York Public Library. In those days of microfilm research, I figured this was one-stop shopping for info and advice about finding Grandpa Isaac's records. I was sure he lived in New York City after arriving from somewhere in Eastern Europe.

With the help of librarians, I checked NYC directories and newspaper records. Yup, Grandpa Isaac and Grandma Henrietta Mahler Burk did live in NYC. I cranked that microfilm reader until I found a terse obit in the New York Times for October 10, 1943. No mention of burial place. Nothing in death record indexes. Next, I mailed a check to New York City with a search request for Grandpa's death cert. I was hooked and had to know more.

Uh-oh. No NYC death cert was on record. Nor was there a death cert in New York State. And no hint of which cemetery Grandpa might be buried in. Remember, Find a Grave was in its infancy, so I couldn't just click to search for him. The funeral folks couldn't help, either.

I continued my quest for Grandpa Isaac little by little over the next few years, locating his marriage record from 1906 and all the US and NY State Census records available at the time. But--no death cert, even though every document showed him living in NYC. Still, I was determined to solve this seemingly basic family mystery.

In desperation, I actually called New York City's vital records department and threw myself on their mercy, asking for help. A very kind gentleman lowered his voice and told me I should try searching further afield. He offered the unofficial hint that Grandpa Isaac might have died in someplace like, say, Washington, D.C.

Huh? Who would Grandpa Isaac and Grandma Henrietta know in Washington, D.C.? And why would Grandpa have died there?

I immediately wrote to the vital records department in D.C., including a check, and waited.

Two weeks later, I had Grandpa Isaac's death cert in my hand. The details fit, this was definitely him. Later, I found Isaac's naturalization record and saw his face and signature for the very first time.

Why were Isaac and Henrietta in D.C. for four days before he had a heart attack and died--in the home of Louis Volk?

The quest for a connection with Louis Volk eventually brought me into contact with some wonderful 2d cousins! But that's another story for another week in the challenge. 

I only wish Grandpa Isaac could know how he got me started in #genealogy--and that I'm making sure the family knows as much about him and his life story as I can discover.

Thank you to Amy Johnson Crow for this 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge!


Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday's Faces from the Past: Isaac, Henrietta, Ida, and Hilda, Arm-in-Arm on October 7, 1943

Handwritten on the back of this photo are the words: "Taken on October 7, 1943." It shows (from left) my Grandpa Isaac Burk and his wife, Henrietta Mahler Burk, strolling along the street in Washington, D.C., with Henrietta's favorite sister (Ida Mahler Volk), arm-in-arm with the sisters' first cousin (Hilda Jacobs Wilner).

Isaac and Henrietta had come from New York City for a brief stay with the Volks. Both of the Burk daughters (Mildred and Miriam) were married, and both of the Burk sons were in the Army but not in combat units (Harold--my Dad--was in Europe, and his brother Sidney was in Hawaii). Just 10 months earlier, Isaac's US naturalization had been finalized and he had taken the oath of citizenship. Now, because Hilda lived in Washington, she joined her first cousins for a day out (thanks to Cuz Lois for identifying Hilda!).

Sadly, tragedy struck the very next day. On October 8, 1943, Grandpa Isaac suffered a heart attack and died in the Rodman Street home of the Volks. This must have been a terrible time for the family, compounded by the fact that neither of Isaac's sons could return from their wartime duties to attend the funeral.

Tracing Isaac's place and date of death was the first genealogical research I undertook in the 1990s. It took years to find out what happened--and once I learned about the close relationship between the Burks and the Volks, I gained a wonderful new constellation of cousins and valuable new insight into my family's background.

The photo at top and the memorial book shown here were both lent by Cousin E, a Burk cousin I saw again this week for the first time in many years. Knowing my interest in family history, he kindly let me scan dozens of photos and documents that had been passed down from Henrietta and Isaac. It was quite a surprise to flip through the photos and suddenly come upon these faces from the past on Isaac's last good day, arm-in-arm with wife Henrietta and her sister and cousin. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Surname Saturday: Birk or Birck from Lithuania (later: Burk)

Isaac Burk, my grandfather, was a carpenter/machinist who left Lithuania to live and work first in Canada and then in New York. According to his petition for naturalization, his original name was Itzchok Birck but I've also seen it listed as Birk or Berk on some documents. His declaration of intention (1939) included the above photo and signature. The two witnesses listed on Isaac's 1942 petition for naturalization were Ida Mahler Volk, his sister-in-law, and Ida's husband Louis Volk.

Exactly when and where Isaac was born is a mystery. He listed his birth date on the naturalization documents as June 5, 1881, but he told the WWI draft board that he was born on April 10, 1881 and he told the WWII draft board that he was born on June 5, 1882. On his marriage record, Isaac lists his father as Elias Burk and his mother as Necke Burk--but both names have been written over with some corrections, so the exact spelling isn't known.

When Isaac entered the United States in May 1904, he said his last permanent residence had been Gerst. My guess is this was a mangled version of Gorsk, known in Lithuanian as Gargzdai. This is 11 miles east of the Baltic port of Klaipeda, Lithuania. Before World War I, Gorsk was in Russia, Kovno province, Telsiai district.

Isaac and his wife Henrietta Mahler went back and forth between New York City (where they were married in 1906) and Montreal until about 1915, when they settled in the Bronx to raise their four children: Mildred, Harold (my Dad!), Miriam, and Sidney.

Did Isaac have brothers or sisters? Did any ever come to North America? Were they Birk or Birck? (Burk was an Americanization.)

PS: I found Isaac and Henrietta in the 1940 Census, right where they should have been: 3044 Valentine Avenue in the Bronx.  Both of their sons, Harold (age 30) and Sidney (age 25), were living with them. Isaac's occupation was "manufacturer, dress forms" and son Harold's occupation was "clerk, baggage room." Now here's an interesting detail: Isaac's 1939 income had been ZERO but Harold's had been $1,000 and Sidney's had been $600. I have a suspicion that when Harold and Sidney went into the Army for WWII, they had their pay sent home to Isaac and Henrietta, who had no other income that I know of.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tuesday Time Travel: 1906, When Isaac and Henrietta Wed

In my continuing series of time-travel posts, today I'm looking at the year in which my paternal grandfather, Isaac Burk, married my maternal grandma, Henrietta Mahler. Their wedding date was June 10, 1906, so their anniversary is just a few days from now.

These photos show them in the mid-1930s, when their four children were grown and gone.

What was life like for them in 1906, when they were married in Henrietta's apartment in New York City? Despite their hopes and dreams, all around them were larger forces causing major challenges for immigrants from Eastern Europe:
  • War and peace and pogroms. Teddy Roosevelt was President, and this was the year he won the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering an end to the Russo-Japanese war. But pogroms continued in parts of Eastern Europe controlled by Russia. Isaac and Henrietta's friends and family there would have been affected by these terrible events (which would also have reinforced their decision to make a life in North America).
  • Money troubles. New York was a city of super-rich socialites and struggling immigrants like my grandparents. The financial panic of 1907 was just around the corner, which may have been one reason why Isaac was "commuting" back and forth between Montreal and New York in search of work. One of Isaac and Henrietta's four children was born in Montreal (my uncle Sidney Burk). Cousin Lois told me that her grandma Ida and my grandma Henrietta would help each other out with money during the Depression years in New York, which suggests money was an ongoing problem for my grandparents.
  • Fear of immigrant labor. Waves of immigration swept over the city and country, and with it, increasing fear that immigrants were stealing jobs from Americans (sound familiar?). Perhaps Isaac felt the effects of this fear when he tried to find work in NYC. Immigration laws were changing . . . and the naturalization rules were tightened in 1906 to require English language knowledge. What was it like to arrive in New York after a week or more at sea? Two years ago, Dick Eastman posted a link to footage of Ellis Island immigrants in 1906, and the three-minute snippet is quite poignant.
  • Earthquakes and exposes. San Francisco was devastated by the huge earthquake and fire in April, 1906, news that would have made it to New York before the wedding. Later that same summer, Chile suffered a massive earthquake and fire that killed 20,000. Other news headlines related to exposes such as The Jungle, which prompted new federal regulations that made my grandparents' daily lives safer, such as the Pure Food and Drug Act. When they could afford to buy a newspaper, most likely Isaac and Henrietta read the Jewish Daily Forward published in Yiddish.